I'm liking the Google Search Wiki though some others, don't

Now that I’ve had a chance to look at Google Search Wiki, I think it’s a lot of fun and really, the right direction for search to move in, but I noticed some who liked Google better without the personalization such as Andrew Goodman and Michael Arrington.

The main sentiment expressed by both is that Google is not broken, so why fix it?  In Michael Arrington’s own words:

Google says they’ve created a way to customize search results, and share (via the comments). They say they are striving to improve the search experience, and giving people tools to make search even more useful to them in their daily lives.

” … But Google search wasn’t broken. It’s one of the few things on the Internet that isn’t. I love it, as does 62% of everyone on the Internet. This new stuff is a mess of arrows and troll comments and stuff moving around the page. That doesn’t make my search experience more useful. It makes it move to another search engine.”

Now, I’ve looked at TechCrunch’s results in the Google Search Wiki – with all the results shownand right now – there’s not that much interesting – but imagine what you’ll be looking at in a month or two.  Imagine looking at Google to get information and see what other people are saying – and actually learning what people think – stuff you could never get, not like this, ever before.

Goodman, who I’ve met at SES San Jose recently thinks Google ought to turn the whole thing off and turn the clock back:

” …. It may be just a visceral reaction, but I’m with Arrington, who just pleads with Google to just turn this thing off and stop this cult of the amateur world from spilling over from YouTube into the one workable, reliable techno-thing that is for many of us truly sacred.”

On the other hand, John Jantsch seems to have a more open mind while Seth Godin thinks what Google has just done is the most signficant change in Search …. since Search Engine were launched!

“… If you’re a signed in user of Google, you’ll notice the most significant change in search since their launch.

You can now interact with search results, wiki style.

You can vote them up or down and leave comments. And they will be seen by others.

1. This is going to lead to an incredible rush by small businesses and social networkers. They’re going to go crazy trying to game the system.

2. Google is going to find that millions of people pay a lot more attention to their search results (for now).

Interesting to consider what happens after that. How do they handle the deluge? Does democracy matter when it comes to search? How do you filter out the gamed votes?

Also interesting to think about how a tiny change in a beloved interface changes the way you think about and use it.

Ha, ha, ha … Seth worries about Google’s new interface being “gamed” – but isn’t that what we had all along – thousands of people were gaming Google’s results every day -and as time has gone one – it’s gotten harder to plug the holes in Search Engines.   Spam?   Why… Google is trying to filter it out … but much of it is generated because of Google and the way it is – or has been.

Google Search has been broken for quite some time, and many people, including me, complained about the unfairness of Pagerank algorithm and that links are not the endorsement Google has claimed they are.

Besides, the Search Optimization Industry is, more or less, dead, anyway – Google killed it by improving semantic analysis, plugging spam holes, mixing in other types of content and harnessing all the information they’re collecting from Google Analytics, Google ToolBar, and now, the Google Search Wiki.   We can get rid of those things in a site that prevent Google from processing the information, we can increase the usability and we can learn to focus our content to better match what we really want to put forward, but the rest is really being figured out by Google and no deliberate attempt at SEO is needed, most of the time – and that has been Google’s message, all along.

Yep, all along, Google was sending their people to search conferences while they were also telling people to just focus on content and stop trying to deliberately optimize your sites – Google was had become smart enough to figure out your site content for you – and all you had to do was follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and Google would take care of the rest.

In fact, if you tried to hard to optimize your site, and Google saw that, they’d penalize it – which happened to a lot of sites, often unfairly.

Meanwhile, Google’s emphasis on automation ended up becoming a double edged sword – on one hand, automation allows for many of the routine tasks to be done well enough – but when there’s a problem or issue with the search results, it was difficult or almost impossible to talk to anyone at Google – you can submit a request – but you get back no direct response, since you had no idea who, if anyone, was listening, or cared, since most services Google provides are set up to run on automatic pilot (at least, they make is seem that way, even if it isn’t neccesary true).

And the other reason, the main reason why Arrington and Goodman complained about Google Search Wiki is they benefit much more by keeping Google Search as it was - since they know how to benefit and manipulate Google up till now – but would have a much, much harder time manipulating the Search Wiki (though Arrington is far better positioned than most to take advantage of Google’s new “Digg like” interface, and I bet TechCrunch, will.

Still, the new Digg like Search Wiki interface is far more “democratic”, believe it or not – much “fairer” way to rank results than what Google has been running for the last 10 or 11 years.

True, while Google Search worked OK for general types of queries, it’s not too good at specialized and niche types of  information, mainly because the index is too big.  One solution, gave rise to verticals with more qualified pages (i.e: I’m thinking of specific verticals for Medical, Auto, Pharma, Finance, etc).

But something else has been happening - the same thing that brought Barack Obama to the White House as been slowly corroding the quality of Google’s search results – and everyone else’s, more or less – and that was … the Searcher.    The Searcher is growing up. The Bar has been “raised” and search needed to evolve to become more “social” – because there is wisdom in the crowds.

Here’s some obvious observations – searchers are becoming more sophisticated in phasing Search Queries (the average search query  used to be 2 words 10 years ago, now it’s 4 or 5 words), the average searcher is much more sophisticated in knowing what they want and finding a much harder time going through Google’s massive search results index - the problem – now that more and more people are being creators and commentators on content, the original pagerank algorithm, no matter how much Google “improves” it – is not able to deliver helpful search results in the majority of cases, there is simply too much content and it’s too complex for them to know the meaning of it quickly enough or well enough – primarily because what we say and what we write, we often don’t mean – but the Search Engines are not smart enough yet to tell the difference – and it’s simply beyond the ability of any algorythm to figure out what we mean and what we really want.

Google Search Wiki is what I’ve been asking for all along, for Google to experiment with giving the community of searchers the means to decide what they see or don’t see, and in what order – and let others share in that decision.

I like that idea, I think Google ought to go all the way with it and let’s get to a point where the metadata around a search result is far more interesting than the actual search result.

But some have also noted the abuse that can happen, just as Digg was abused by “Digg Gangs”, including Marketing Pilgrim -Google Gets Personal.

However, just because abuse can happen, doesn’t mean it has to happen – Google, as Digg, knows who is voting and what IP Address they’re using – it also drops persistent first party cookies in your browser cache – Google can find ways to detect certain types of undesirable search behaviors and discourage them, as, in a way, they do now, with the various spam filters they’ve set up.

So… I’m not as worried as many seem to be about Google’s new Search Wiki - I say … bring it on – let’s go all the way with this – and look – maybe to help those who can’t handle this change – to have the old version of Google back – but for those, like me, who want it – let’s go full steam ahead.

Yeah, let’s bring it on and do the same thing to Google News and Google Hot Trends – especially Google News – that could be a great way to share information as it’s happening.  Yes, Google – this is an innovation of yours I’ve been asking for a long time  – and now you’ve introduced it – let’s quickly move forward and add it into Google News.

By the way, one more interesting observation, Google has now moved the “Seat” of commenting – away from the Website (the actual sites in Search Results) and onto Google, itself!

There’s a whole new industry that can be “farmed” by harvesting the information that people are putting onto Google - a new class of ranking tools and comment extraction tools could and should be developed, once this new change in Google has been more fully “absorbed”.

You must realize, that up till now, most comments you got about a site – were either on the site in question, or in some message board or blog – but now ….. now …… it’s in the Search Results.  Wow!

Enough for one post – now, I’ll go back and play with my search results – maybe I’ll learn something from them, finally!

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1 reply
  1. Andrew Goodman says:

    Marshall, I enjoyed the thoughtful review.

    Wrong on one point, though. Given that I focus mainly on paid search, I don’t “know how to benefit and manipulate [organic] Google up to this point,” in the sense that I am no garden-variety SEO. My comment would take a lot longer to break down, but it’s safest to say that my feeling about the new Wikified search interface is similar to my feeling about some ongoing changes in the AdWords back end. Beautiful elegance in design can give way to feature-itis. I want to be a “regular” user of search, and I think that the majority of users also do.

    I have been a longtime advocate of a truly powerful Google Search which would allow you to bake your own algorithm. What I see Google doing here is tipping its cap to some fads in community annotation and customization — while not offering anything genuinely powerful enough to satisfy power users. It’s not a particularly new idea to allow people to scribble comments on something (remember back to an app called “Third Voice?” or how about the nonstarter idea of Alexa/Amazon being used to offer a tiny handful of people the opportunity to write a review about a whole website) or to customize a result… it’s not a feature set I’ll personally use and yes, insofar as it could be gamed, it just opens up another hole for “optimizers” (similar to the Digg gaming, I don’t play).

    Back to the issue of search visibility and people skilled at manipulation being accustomed to gaming Google. We should all know at this point that serious enterprise level SEO for grownups involves a range of strategies that break down into many categories, many of them coming back to info architecture, content quality, reputation, etc. Working on these matters is complex and involves real world strategy. When my clients do ask for SEO, we work with them on complex, real world strategy. So I would hardly consider this latest wrinkle in non-uniform, custom search results as letting the air out of my “SEO manipulating balloon.” But I do think of it as contributing to a messy reality layered on top of an already imperfect, messy search product. My intent would never to be to fear messy reality carte blanche (I would say I am not being reactionary), but rather to point out that the breathless triumphalism about the ability for folks to jot notes and mete out responses (the hoped-for wisdom of the crowd) needs to be tempered by the reality that you can make a royal cock-up (thanks to our British friends for the terminology) of democracy when it tilts into cartoonish demagoguery. If you think a bunch of junky, useless, manipulative, and otherwise unhelpful comments and noise can’t build up and ruin a Google property, you have only to look at the user commentary in places like Google Finance, Google Video of a few years ago, or Youtube today. Google Finance has always sported comments less useful, more idiotic, and often more manipulative than we saw on Motley Fool, Raging Bull, Yahoo Finance, and Silicon Investor 10+ years ago. On Google Video of a few years ago, not only were comments juvenile, but people were manipulating, spamming, and potty-mouthing the tagging function. Now, we’re set to unleash this on the entire search interface? Yikes.

    So that’s the thrust of my concern. I wonder if this time will be different. And wonder why Google thinks or hopes it will be.

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